Danish EURO Referendum

by Marcus Schmidt, chair of the Danish Society for Direct Democracy

A brief update on the ongoing Campaign

As you probably know, the Danish citizenry will soon have to cast their vote on whether the kingdom should abolish its national currency (the krone) and substitute it with the Euro.

The referendum has proved necessary since giving up the national currency according to juridical experts implies a transfer of Danish sovereignty to foreign bodies. If the kingdom wants to transfer sovereignty to foreign bodies the Danish constitution (§20) prescribes that a referendum be held on the issue - unless at least five out of six MP's - 146 or more out of 175 - accept the loss of national independence.

The referendum is scheduled to take place on September 28th 2000. The electorate will have to vote either "yes" or "no" on whether Denmark should join (: convert to) the European Common Currency ("Forslag til lov om Danmarks deltagelse i den fælles valuta").

An overwhelming majority of Danish MP's favor a yes-vote. Social Democrats, Left- and Right Liberals, Conservatives, and Center-Democrats are in favor of the Euro, while The Peoples Socialists Party, The Left Socialists, The Progress Party, and The Peoples Party are opposed to Danish membership. The Christian Democrats are split: two parliamentarians are pro while two members are against the Euro (one of them is the former Minister of Energy Jann Sjursen). 

The Danish Folketing at the Castle of Christiansborg 

Likewise, two Social Democrats (out of 63 MP's) have stated that they oppose Danish adoption of the common currency (Hans Hækkerup - brother of the defense minister - and Holger Graversen). So has a former conservative (Frank Dahlgaard, now excluded). About 80% of the Folketing (137 of 175 MP's) favor a yes-vote. The two biggest parties in parliament (Social Democrats and Right Liberals) - jointly representing 60% of the seats - strongly promote Danish membership of the Euro-Zone.

However, since 137 yes votes amongst 175 MP's is less than 5/6, the constitution necessitates a referendum. Therefore, parliamentarians do not have the last say. The final decision will have to be made by the four million Danish voters on September 28th.

A Danish Voter

Currently the newspapers are packed with articles and letters to the Editor produced by proponents and opponents of the Euro. Most articles are produced by experts, professors and top managers within business, while many plain citizens and politicians send letters to the Editor. 

The independent Economic Advisory Board (three distinguished scholars appointed by the minister of economy) recently concluded, that it really does not matter whether Denmark adopts the Euro or not ("the advantages seem to be small and insecure"). However, other experts disagreed vehemently with the three pundits. For the first time ever since board was established many years ago, its conclusions were criticized by several ministers (all ministers favor a yes). One cannot help ponder over if the pundits' findings would have been criticized by the ministers, assumed that their conclusions had turned out strongly favorable towards the Euro.

Opponents state that the EURO is but the first step towards "The European Superstate". Proponents oppose this view and argue that the EURO is both practical and advantageous for the citizens. According to their view it is important for Denmark to seek influence and "sit at the table where decisions are made". 

Opponents do not buy such arguments. Their fear that more and more policy concerning the Danish society will be decided upon by the Brussels-based EU institutions. Currently, Denmark possesses only 3 out of 87 votes (3%) in the Council of Ministers, while barely 16 out of 626 seats in the European Parliament (2%) belong to Danes. It is assumed that Danish proportional influence in EU-Institutions will be even less, once a bunch of former communist countries of Eastern Europe join the EU. Moreover, opponents fear that Denmark will be unable to maintain its permanent right to appoint one of the twenty commissioners.

The European parliament at Brussels

Some proponents refer to the fact that there has (almost) been no war in Europe since the creation of the European Economic Community (predecessor of the EU). Why? Answer: Because member countries are continuously forced to negotiate and discuss all crucial political and economic topics with each other, arrive at compromises etc. Since close and peaceful cooperation becomes "a lifestyle" amongst political leaders, wars are prevented. In earlier centuries, when the European continent consisted of hundreds of kingdoms and principalities - probably more than thousand in the 19th Century - wars were frequent. A famous historian (Toynbee) once named war as "the sport of kings and princes".

Opponents state that European Institutions have done little to solve the bloody conflicts in, say, the Balkans during the recent decade. Peace and stability in Europe was guaranteed by the membership of NATO and by the overwhelming military might of the US. The existence of the EU has little or noting to do with this. This corresponds to the jackdaw in the peacock's feathers.

The sanctions against Austria and their impact on the Danish electorate

According to polls partisans were way ahead until February 2000: About 60% of persons interrogated stated that they would vote "yes".

However, things changed dramatically when fourteen prime ministers of EU countries in a combined effort initiated sanctions against Austria, because the ÖVP (Austrian Peoples Party) decided to form government with the FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria), controlled by the charismatic and controversial rightist populist-tribune Jörg Haider.

Jörg Haider

A few days after the sanctions became public, several Danish polls showed that an impressive majority of voters (65-75%) disagreed with the Danish Government concerning the sanctions (The Nyrup-government supported the sanctions). A majority of Danish voters regard Austria as a model or exemplary case of a representative democracy. According to a prevailing view amongst the Danish electorate, governments of sovereign political entities are formed such: Political parties in parliament negotiate and eventually agree on crucial issues. Next, they decide upon forming a government. If a coalition of parties can muster a majority and thus form a stable government, then no "exterior force" or "foreign power" should be able to interfere or protest against a government based on premises like these.

Moreover, many Danes feel that next time the "mind controlling" prime minister of the EU may turn towards Denmark. That might be the case assumed that next election (due spring 2002 or earlier) will be won by the conservative-liberal coalition. It is probable that such a government will depend on the - active or passive - support of the Danish Popular Party. This party, being led by the charismatic Pia Kjærsgaard, often is compared to Haider and Le Pen by foreign journalists (Nothing could be farther from the truth tough. 

Mrs. Pia Kjærsgaard

Mrs. Kjærsgaard has uttered any statement that can be regarded as racist. However, she is critical towards the EU, she thinks that too many immigrants are coming to Denmark, and then she strongly supports the peoples initiative device (The Danish constitution only mentions popular referendum). Since such topics are also promoted by politicians like Haider and Le Pen, most foreign journalists and politicians lump her with these "populists". It is quite ironic that the word "populist" is used as an extremely insulting term amongst the European political elite and refers to demagogues and other very bad guys. The word origins from the Latin word populus meaning people!

Note, that the sanctions were annulled on September 12th by all 14 EU-countries. It has been argued that their sudden cancellation was caused by the upcoming Danish referendum. The Danish prime minister is said to have begged his European colleagues to drop the sanctions immediately (The so-called three wise men had just delivered a report recommending that the sanctions be lifted). Otherwise, he asserted, a majority of Danes would vote no.

What do current polls tell us?

At the time of this writing (September 14th), polls indicate a dead heat. It is impossible to predict the result. Presently, about 40% favor yes and 40% favor no, while 20% are undecided. Many Danes still do not feel properly informed concerning the economic and political implications of joining the Euro-Zone. Nevertheless, studies published by Eurobarometer have repeatedly shown that Danish voters possess more factual knowledge regarding EU related topics than any other European people. Furthermore, Denmark so far is the only country within the EU where the electorate is at all allowed to vote on the Euro. Only in Denmark the common people have say.

According to one poll 15% of voters state that they lean towards voting no because of the sanctions against Austria, while only 1% lean towards voting yes due to the same reason (Source: a Gallup poll).

Assumed that the outcome of the referendum is a "no", three out of four voters expect that a renewed referendum on the Euro will be held within a few years (Source: a GfK-poll).

Most voters (more than 80% of those polled) do not think that Denmark will ever be able to abolish the Euro, once it is adopted. Basically then, it is a one-way street: We can get into it but we cannot get out of it. While this argument may appear strange to many foreign observers - usually, one does not devote oneself to conditions of divorce the day before the wedding - it is an important issue in the actual Danish referendum campaign. The prime minister Nyrup Rasmussen has stated that it is, at least theoretically, possible to abolish the Euro if we want so at a later point of time. 

However, most leading authorities and experts disagree. Hans Tietmeyer, the influential and long time former CEO of the German Bundesbank, was recently cited in the Danish press for saying "it is a one way street" and that "it is practically impossible for a country to leave the Euro-Zone at a later point of time". When Romano Prodi, head of the European Commission, was interviewed by journalists while visiting Denmark, he said: "The Euro is not like an a-la-carte where you pick up what you like and drop the tings you do not like." Moreover, the European Treaty does not contain any paragraphs that regulate or specify how a country can abolish the Euro.

Denmark's first deliberative poll: Should Denmark adopt the EURO?

On August 26-27 the first deliberative poll in Denmark was carried out. The experiment was designed in accordance with the principles formulated by Texas A&M professor James Fishkin. During the days of the event Prof. Fishkin visited the University of Southern Denmark and delivered a guest lecture about the principles of deliberative polling.

Three hundred and sixty randomly selected Danish voters participated in the deliberative poll. Participants had to travel to the Odense campus of the University of Southern Denmark. All costs and expenses for travel, hotel, and meals were covered by the organizers. Some weeks prior to the occasion, carefully selected material containing undeniable facts as well as favorable and unfavorable arguments concerning the Euro was been forwarded to each participant. The event itself was covered in detail by public Danish TV (DR), radio (P1). It was co-sponsored by a well-reputed weekly management newsletter (Mandag Morgen, www.mm.dk). Danish TV dedicated five hours of programming time to the event.

First, the four hundred participant were split into twenty groups. Second, each group was asked to discuss pros and cons concerning the EURO for several hours. Third, all groups gathered in an auditorium and were encouraged to forward questions concerning the EURO to panels of politicians and of economical experts/professors. The process took two full days.

Many Danish top politicians agreed to take part and showed up including Nyrup Rasmussen, several ministers and all heads of the major opposition parties.

The deliberate poll: An elderly female voter discussing with 
the Danish prime minister Rasmussen. At his right, the leader 
of the Right Liberals, Anders Fogh Rasmussen and 
Pia Kjærsgaard, leader of the Danish Peoples Party

Before traveling to Odense all participants were phoned and had to answer a couple of questions concerning the Euro-campaign, including whether they intended to vote yes or no. Immediately after the end of the deliberative poll, each person once more had to cast a vote. Thus it was possible to measure if the deliberate poll had made a difference. It turned out that very few of those initially being committed to a yes or no changed their mind. And both groups were of approximately the same size. 

However, amongst the group of 20% being undecided when they arrived, it seemed that a marginal majority now intended to vote yes. According to the organizers the arguments of the politicians in favor of the Euro as well as the remarks made by the experts "caught" the doubting audience better than the politicians opposing (most experts were neither outspokenly positive nor negative). For instance, the percentage fearing that Denmark will being unable to leave the Euro-Zone, should the country want to do so, dropped from 60% to 30%. Likewise the doubters in fear of the European Superstate declined from 60% to 50%.

According to participating voters, politicians, experts and journalists the deliberative poll was regarded as a success. Most agreed upon that more deliberative polls will be organized in the years to come. A couple of relevant topics currently exists: The Danish health care system, The welfare system, The pension system, policies towards immigrants and refugees, the criminal code and the punishment system etc.